He didn’t know who he was so he just called him the boy with the blue balloon. He gave the boy that nickname based upon the fact that he was indeed a boy and that every day, at 3 o’clock on the dot, he’d sit at the bench right across from the bakery Hunter worked at with a blue balloon that he’d always release into the sky.
Hunter also didn’t know why he always carried a blue balloon to that specific spot only to let it go, but he was enticed by it. He didn’t live a very productive life, seeing the boy with the blue balloon was the highlight of his day usually. It was sad, but not as sad as the boy with the blue balloon.
Hunter was your average twenty-year-old. He was in college, held a job at the downtown bakery known as The Butterfly Bakery, shared an apartment with his best friend, and just lived an average life. Nothing he did would land him on the cover of a magazine or make him a recipient of a noble peace prize.
He was studying meteorology. That was his major, also known as atmospheric science. He had classes for the first half of the day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and on week days he worked at the bakery from noon to five. During those hours he wasn’t in class or working, he was either studying, listening to music, or pestering his best friend Lane. Or Lane was pestering him. Today Lane was pestering him. It was a Friday afternoon and Hunter was standing behind the veneered counter that Lane was currently sitting comfortably on top of like he owned the building.
“Can I get anything for free?” Hunter shook his head because every single time Lane visited him he asked for free food. Apparently since Hunter had worked there for three years and Lane was his best friend that meant he was entitled to free food. He was wrong.
“For the millionth time, no. I can’t just give away free pastries.” He told him making, Lane pout. Hunter smirked at him then took a deep breath, glancing at the clock on the right wall. It was 2:55. His heart was already fluttering. Why was his heart already fluttering?
“I at least get a discount, right? For being best friends with a loyal employee?” Hunter glanced back at him then shook his head. “Where’s Sharon? I need to have a word with her.” Hunter laughed, shaking his head again, but not in an affirmative action.
“You can’t just come here and ask for free food, or a discount, while sitting on top of the cashier counter.” Lane crossed his arms, scoffing.
“I don’t see why not.” Hunter just laughed, his eyes twinkling as he did, then he glanced outside through the display window. Across from the bakery was the bench the boy with the blue balloon always sat at at 3 o’clock. It was 2:59.
Hunter watched out the window subtly because Lane was currently talking about something and Hunter wanted to give off the illusion that he was listening, but he wasn’t. The minute a blue balloon entered his field of vision his eyes practically jumped out of his head. He didn’t know why he was so infatuated with the boy, there was just something about him. It wasn’t just that he carried a blue balloon and let it go at the same time every single day, that’s what made him curious. It’s his appearance that made Hunter infatuated. He was beautiful. So beautiful.
Hunter watched him walk smoothly across the sidewalk before taking his place on the bench on the left side, a white ribbon in his hand and a blue balloon swaying back and forth above his head from the breeze. Hunter swallowed only to find his mouth completely dry. His heart was knocking against his ribcage for some reason unknown and Lane’s voice was only a distant memory now. He watched him intently. He was wearing black skinny jeans, white vans, and a peach colored jumper that stretched past his fingertips. His skin was pale in the bleak sunlight, but something was giving him a full-on halo effect.
Suddenly he released the ribbon from his hand and the balloon floated up and up and up. Hunter wanted to watch it float away until it merely blended in with the sky, but his window of opportunity was 4 by 8 so the second he let go the second it was gone.
“Um, hello, earth to Hunter?” Lane waved his hand in front of Hunter’s face, peering at him in confusion. Hunter snapped out of his rapt gaze and glanced back at Lane.
“You just completely zoned out on me for a few minutes. What the hell just happened to you?” Hunter fumbled to come up with an excuse. How could he even begin to explain to Lane about the boy with the blue balloon? He couldn’t. He shouldn’t. Surely other people noticed him, he walked around with a blue balloon for crying out loud, but did they pay attention to him?
“Um, I don’t know, I was just thinking.” Lane gave him a skeptical look before turning and glancing out of the window curiously. He glanced at the boy.
“Oh my God, were you staring at him?” Hunter didn’t open his mouth because if he did he’d just end up grinning which would give him away, but the other sign that gave him away was the blush in his cheeks. He couldn’t believe he was 20 and blushing over a boy he didn’t even know! “Oh my God, you were staring at him!”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know-”
“Yes, you do! You are redder than a drop of blood right now!” Lane’s lips quirked up into a smirk. Hunter just shook his head.
“I’m serious, I don’t know who he is.” Lane turned and looked at him through the window. He was just sitting there tentatively with his head turned up towards the sky.
“C’mon, what do you know about him? Who is he?”
“I’m serious, I don’t know.” Hunter insisted, but Lane still gave him a skeptical look, like he believed he was lying. “I’ve never talked to him. Every day he walks down here and sits at that bench with a blue balloon, then he lets it go and leaves a few minutes later. I don’t know his name or anything-”
“Yet you blush like a little school girl the second I just mention him.”
“Seriously Lane, it’s nothing.”
“It is so something, you are blushing and look so flustered right now, it’s not even funny. How long have you been fancying him?” Hunter hit his fist against the edge of the counter.
“I do not fancy him!” Lane just gave him a dismissive smirk, adding a patronizing nod.
“Have you ever thought about going out and talking to him?” Hunter immediately shook his head. “Why not?”
“Why not? Because I have no idea who he is-”
“Which is why you go out and introduce yourself-”
“You didn’t let me finish.” Hunter interrupted sternly. Lane sighed and stared at him as he spoke. “And because how would I even introduce myself? ‘Oh, hi, I’m Hunter and I watch you every day when you sit here. What’s your name?’ I’d sound completely stalkerish and creepy.”
“You would not-”
“Yes, I would.” Lane gave him a soft glare which Hunter returned with a small smile. Lane turned to glance out the window at the boy again, but he was already gone.
“So, he just comes here every day at 3 and sits on the bench for a few minutes?” He turned back to Hunter. Hunter nodded, smoothing his hand over the wrinkles of his apron.
“Yeah, every day at 3 he walks down here carrying a blue balloon, then he sits on the bench, lets it go, then he just leaves a few minutes later.”
“You’re weird.” Hunter rolled his eyes at Lane before laughing. Maybe it was a little weird, maybe it wasn’t. To the boy, it was probably completely normal, and to Hunter, it was just intriguing.
“Whatever.” Lane hopped off the counter soundlessly then stretched his back. “Buy some pizza on your way home-”
“Why can’t you buy pizza?” Hunter leaned against the counter coolly and Lane just smiled at him guiltily. If there was one thing Lane was, it was cheap. And if there was one thing Lane was proud of it was being cheap.
“Because I don’t get paid until tomorrow. Sorry.” With a giddy little smile, he skipped towards the bakery’s doors. “See you later!” Hunter just pursed his lips together, sighing. He shook his head at Lane, despite him not even being there anymore. The bakery was usually slow in the afternoons so all Hunter had to do was stand around and count the ceiling tiles. At the end of his shift he strung up his apron with a feeling of joy, grabbed his keys, his coat, and strode out to his car. He took a moment to look up at the sky. It was early December; the sun was going to sleep usually by the time he got off work. Vibrant colors washed the sky in beauty. The sky was always so beautiful and it was so big. There was always something new to gaze at.
Hunter turned his head down as he ducked into his car. He had to remember to get pizza at Lane’s request, but Lane didn’t tell him what kind so Hunter got what he wanted: Canadian bacon and pineapple. It filled him with so much joy because he knew that Lane had a certain distaste for pineapples. Especially on pizza. He always claimed how they had no place on a pizza and yadda yadda. Hunter usually tuned him out.
Being college students and sharing an apartment together, cooking was not a top priority. Half of their cupboards weren’t even filled with anything. They were more empty than full. The most they cooked was mac and cheese or ramen noodles, they mostly took turns getting take-out. Their diet wasn’t the healthiest so to keep on top of that they both typically went to the gym when time allowed. Opening the door, Hunter tried not to drop the things in his hands. He didn’t just buy a pizza, he opted for some breadsticks and chicken wings as well.
“Boy, oh boy, something smells delicious!” Hunter heard Lane before he saw him. He smiled to himself as he slid the stuff from his arm to the kitchen counter, trying not to knock over any of the unnecessary junk cluttering the smooth surface.
“Well I hope you like pineapple and Canadian bacon.” He could hear Lane groan then turned and glanced at him as he turned into the kitchen.
“You know I hate pineapple on pizza.” He deadpanned giving him a cold glare. Hunter just shrugged his shoulders as he pulled plates out of the cupboard.
“Pick it off.”
“But the taste is still there because of the juice!” Hunter just looked up, smirking at him, then handed him a plate.
“Then just eat breadsticks and chicken wings. If you wanted a pizza you liked, then you should’ve bought it.” Lane grumbled incoherently under his breath as he ripped the plate out of Hunter’s hand. Hunter smiled to himself, flipping open the pizza box. And then they went at it. Hunter grabbed three slices of pizza, stacking them on his plate, two breadsticks, and at least half of the chicken wings. Lane grabbed two pieces of pizza, four breadsticks, and the rest of the chicken wings. Healthy.
“Are you trying to kill me? I’m going to die of a cardiac arrest because of you.” They both settled down in their little living room. Hunter took the couch and Lane took the love seat. They each had their own spots that were specifically theirs.
“Maybe after you let the moth out of your wallet you can buy a salad.” Hunter retorted turning on the TV with the remote.
“Pass. I’ll stick with the gym.” Hunter laughed, rolling his eyes. They spent the evening pigging out until they couldn’t move, but were enthralled with the satisfying feeling of being full.
Luke had spent the rest of his afternoon walking around the park downtown admiring the life he saw in everyone’s eyes. The life in his eyes had faded a long time ago. It had completely faded out and now something else was fading, he just didn’t know what. He spent most of his days doing nothing. Just nothing. He usually just walked around downtown to pass time despite not having anything he wanted to do, no where he wanted to be, and no money to spend on anything. He was in college for one year, but due to certain circumstances he dropped out and had no intentions of ever applying again. He had no idea what he was going to do with his life, but he hoped he wouldn’t live to find an idea. He didn’t want to live a life chasing after the unknown.
He walked back home considering he didn’t have a car or even a license. He kicked off his shoes in the foyer and ran his fingers through his hair. His house was small and cozy, a simple two story with lots of clutter and dim lights. His mother used to spend her time redecorating the rooms because after so many months they started to get boring and drab. Now they were always drab and always the same. He sighed.
He walked through the foyer and living room into the kitchen. His father was standing at the kitchen counter slicing cooked chicken into small chunks on a cutting board. The kitchen was cramped and even more cluttered with dirty dishes they could never seem to get around to cleaning.
“Oh hey, how was your day?” Luke shrugged. He sat on the stool at the counter across from him.
“Boring. Didn’t do anything. How was yours?”
“Stressful.” His dad picked up the cutting board then stepped over to the stove top, swiping the chicken into the skillet before placing the lid overtop. “I finished the JMF article, but then all the other authors keep e-mailing me asking me where their articles are and it’s just stressful.”
“Oh, that sounds annoying.” His dad nodded.
“It is. It’s like these people don’t expect me to actually have a life outside of copy editing, like they just expect me to be working 24/7.” Luke wasn’t sure what to say so he didn’t say anything at all.
“What’s for dinner?” He asked instead. His father wiped his hands with the hand towel and took a deep breath. Luke always wished he could help his father more, but the most helpful thing he could do was get help himself.
“Chicken Ala King. It’ll only be five minutes.” Luke nodded. His dad turned and went to the cabinet up beside the oven, pulling out some napkins then grabbed forks from a lower drawer. He walked over to the table beside the kitchen and set their places. “Have you taken your supplements and such? I also got some more Miralax today. It’s in the cabinet.”
“Okay, and I’ll just take them after dinner like usual.” He answered solemnly.
“And did you take them yesterday?” His tone was all Luke needed to know that his father knew he hadn’t. It would be pointless to lie; he had tried that one too many times.
“No, you didn’t, because I reminded you at least five times last night-”
“Well I’m sorry if I don’t want to swallow five different pills every night.” Luke snapped irritably. He turned his head down timidly as his father stepped back into the kitchen.
“It is to keep you healthy. It might not be enjoyable, but you can’t just not take them because you don’t want too.” Luke was quiet. He just stood up from his stool and moved into the kitchen, around his dad. He grabbed a plastic cup from the cupboard, grabbed the Miralax, then filled his cup with ice. He measured out his dose then poured the white powder into his cup. He placed the bottle back then filled his cup with water. He took a spoon from the drawer and mixed it together. He didn’t even have to think about what he was doing. He was so used to just going through the motions that that’s all he had to do, just go through the motions while his brain was on autopilot. He walked over to the table and placed his cup at his place. “It’s ready, by the way.”
They each grabbed a plate and his dad spooned a healthy amount of the Chicken Ala King onto his plate before walking over to the table whereas Luke didn’t even give himself a full spoonful. He sat down at his seat parallel to his father at the wobbly table.
They each slowly dug in. Well, his father dug in. Luke just picked up his fork and prodded it around his plate. He separated everything into neatly coordinated piles. All the chicken was in one pile, all the mushrooms, the peas, the peppers, celery, even the rice was moved into a neat little pile. Then he just mixed it all together again before separating it into separate piles again.
“Luke,” Luke looked up at his father, his eyes dull and expression solemn for he knew what his father would say next. “One bite. That’s all I ask.” Luke sighed, staring back down at his plate as he picked up one single grain of the steamed rice and placed it in his mouth. He swallowed it thickly before a lump seemed to form in his throat. His father sighed. “You know what I meant.”
“Dad, please don’t push me.”
“I’m not trying to push you, I’m trying to help you, encourage you-”
“Well you’re doing the exact opposite of what you’re intending to do. Forcing me to eat will help absolutely nothing.” His father placed his fork down and picked up his napkin, wiping his lips.
“I’m sorry, I just...I don’t know what to do here.”
“There’s nothing to do.” Luke retorted softly and kept head turned down so he wouldn’t have to see the disappointment in his father’s face.
“There is something to do, we just don’t have the means-”
“Can we please stop talking about this?” Luke felt like he was going to be sick and he wasn’t sure if that was because he had actually eaten something for once or because they were talking about his disorder over dinner. The irony.
“Just because we don’t talk about something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Luke swallowed thickly. There was a lump in his throat that only seemed to get bigger each time swallowed.
“Yeah, well, that still doesn’t mean I want to talk about it.”
“Well I’m sorry about that, but it’s not something we can ignore.” Luke just rolled his eyes and continued to scrape his fork across his plate.
“We’ve been ignoring it for six years-”
“Maybe you have. I have not.” Luke didn’t respond. “I’ve been putting money away for a while now to help pay for maybe some therapy sessions-”
“I don’t need therapy, I’m fine.” Luke could practically see the steam roll out of his father’s ears because they both knew that Luke was not fine, that he was ill and had been ill for years now.
“I do not want to hear you say that ever again because you damn well know that you are not fine, Luke.”
“It’s not whatever!” Luke dropped his fork and pushed his chair back away from the table. He crossed his arms and turned his head down like a child refusing to eat his vegetables. “It’s important!”
“Who gives a fuck?” Luke shouted back.
“You’re not everyone!” His father ground his teeth together before wiping his lips with his napkin then tucking it under the edge of his plate. It seemed like every other night he and Luke were getting into a screaming match over food. And every other night Luke would end up storming off to his room.
“I’m done talking about this.” Luke stood up abruptly and marched out of the kitchen and dining room area to the stairs, but he stood up too fast and everything began to swirl from color to grey. He stopped mid step in the living room and clutched the edge of the couch tightly as he waited for it to pass. He closed his eyes, sure for a moment that he was actually going to pass out, then felt a hand grab his shoulder.
“Here, why don’t you lie down on the couch.” The dizziness passed and Luke ripped his shoulder out from under his father’s hand.
“No, I’m fine.” He stormed off to the stairs, stomping up them, then slammed his bedroom door behind him. He flopped down on his bed on his back and placed his hands-on top of his head as he tried to catch his breath. Walking up the stairs wasn’t exactly as easy as it once was. He didn’t even know when it started, just suddenly one day he couldn’t walk up the stairs without getting winded or extremely tired, and he couldn’t stand up without experiencing a dizzy spell.
He got sicker and sicker each day, yet he only saw those days as days he could’ve restricted more calories since he was still so grossly fat. He hated himself. He hated his body. He hated his life. He hated the way the sun shined brightly every day and the way the moon still always managed to light up the night sky. Did the stars ever feel like not shining? The stars didn’t get to choose when they shone and when they didn’t. They just shined all the time. That must be tiring. Luke couldn’t even smile without getting tired. He couldn’t imagine smiling all the time.
He dressed out of his jeans and jumper, and traded them in for a pair of cozy sweats and an oversized tee shirt. He could sleep for a hundred years and still wake up exhausted. He collapsed on his bed and wrapped himself in his quilt. He got cold quite often. He was still trying to catch his breath. His heart was beating fast.
Just as he was used to, his eyes watered with tears and they rolled down his cheeks onto his pillow. Half the time he didn’t even know why he was crying. He knew deep down that he wanted to get better, but that time to get better was just not now. Half the time he didn’t think it would be worth it, he had already screwed up so much. Luke was a tornado. He made a mess of his life and he was making a mess of everyone else’s.